Justice Secretary John Tilley | Photo courtesy of Kentucky.Gov

In an effort to stem the high turnover rate of parole and probation officers, the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet has approved a plan to give all of its officers and supervisors a 12 percent raise.

Insider Louisville obtained a letter sent last Monday to all probation and parole officers and supervisors from Jonathan Hall — the director of the division of probation and parole within the Kentucky Department of Corrections — informing them of the salary bump.

Hall wrote that the raises would be implemented with funds within the division’s existing personnel budget through the elimination of vacant positions, with the salary increases going into effect on March 16.

Officers and supervisors were informed later in the week by corrections officials that they would have to resign from their positions and be rehired to receive the 12 percent raise, in addition to being told that 75 vacant positions would be eliminated and this would not affect their pension benefits.

In a statement to Insider on Monday, a spokesman for Justice Cabinet Secretary John Tilley indicated that he approved of the plan to increase salaries last month.

“Overall, we believe these raises will help improve recruitment and retention at a time when strong, effective probation and parole is more crucial than ever,” stated a cabinet spokesman, Mike Wynn.

According to Wynn, the plan “uses the savings from vacant positions, which have remained unstaffed for years.” Employees must “complete a resign and reinstate process” to receive the raise, which “will not interrupt their pension plan or require them to change pension plans.”

In late 2017, the state employed 644 parole and probation officers, who were tasked with monitoring over 47,000 released offenders — roughly one officer for every 73 offenders. At the time, Hall told WKYT that the starting salary for probation and parole officers was $31,000, with roughly half of those new officers resigning within their first year in some offices.

An investigation by James McNair of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting in 2016 found that because of budget cuts in the Division of Probation and Parole within the Department of Corrections, the state only handled probation services in 18 counties, with private companies like Kentucky Alternative Programs handling most of these services with little state oversight.

A subsequent Kentucky Supreme Court ruling intended to create stricter guidelines for private probation services, though a report last year by Human Rights Watch found that they were still inconsistently applied.

Last September, Tilley told Insider in an interview that incarcerations in state prisons had grown so much that they were out of space for new inmates, calling for criminal justice reforms to reduce the sentences of nonviolent inmates.

Along with such efforts, Tilley stressed the need to improve how they supervise the 48,000 individuals on probation and parole in the state with evidence-based practices, noting that the most common reason for new jail admissions is not committing a new crime, but a technical revocation of probation or parole.

The Justice Cabinet has not yet responded to inquiries from Insider asking how many probation and parole officers and supervisors are currently employed, how many of those positions are currently vacant, why the resign-and-reinstate process was necessary to implement raises and if this move would expand or retract the need for private probation services.

According to the January directory of probation and parole supervisors in Kentucky’s 21 divisions across the state, three divisions currently have a top supervisor position that is vacant — including one in Louisville — while five divisions have a vacant assistant supervisor position.

As first reported by Insider, two top officials within the Department of Corrections were fired last week: Commissioner Jim Erwin and Operations Director Chris Kleymeyer. The Cabinet has not yet revealed why the two officials were terminated.

Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]